AFL Round 22: Selection News

By Peter Blucher

There’s never a bad time to win selection in a home-and-away AFL side bound for the finals but if there’s a best time it might just be Round 22. Or the penultimate round.

By Round 22 the work is done. There’s no more experimentation. It’s a dress rehearsal for the business end of the season that lies ahead in Round 23 and then the finals.

It was a circumstance last night which brought a mixture of good, bad and indifferent selection news for three Queenslanders who have ridden something of a selection roller-coaster this year.

The good news came out of the GWS Giants, where Lachy Keeffe retained his spot in the side to play the Western Bulldogs in Sydney on Sunday.

It will be Keeffe’s eighth game of the year, and his sixth in a row, and while he will take nothing for granted despite consistently solid form in recent weeks the prospects of playing in the upcoming finals are looking better each week.

If so, it would mean two Queenslanders will play for the Giants in September, with Sam Reid now a regular after having played every game this season in what continues to be a remarkable re-birth to his career.

The indifferent or indecisive selection news came out of Richmond, where Sudanese-born Queenslander product Mabior Chol is hoping to play in his first finals series.

Chol is in a three-way battle for two ruck spots, and coach Damien Hardwick has given nothing away by picking all three in the squad for Sunday’s MCG blockbuster against the West Coast Eagles.

Toby Nankervis, who returned last week for his first game since round 8, has taken back his regular spot as the No.1 ruckman, leaving Chol and Ivan Soldo chasing one position after they played together for much of Nankervis’ absence.

Chol, an athletic type who is more a second-ruckman, has played Rounds 3-15-16-17-18-19-20-21 this season, while Soldo, more of a traditional first ruck in the Nankervis mould, has played Rounds 9-11-12-15-16-17-18-19-20.

Soldo was left out of the Round 21 side when Nankervis returned last week, but Hardwick has listed Chol and Soldo on the customary eighth-player interchange squad which will be cut to four by game day.

So while Chol may well know whether he is playing, supporters outside the club will be made to wait.

The bad news came from Geelong, where Zac Smith’s roller-coaster ride took a bad turn when he was not picked in the side to play Brisbane at the Gabba on Saturday.

So, a position which looked so promising when he was recalled to the side in Round 19 at the expense of Rhys Stanley, who had been a fixture in the top side this season, doesn’t look so bright.

Smith was a standout in the Cats’ Round 19 win over Sydney and was solid in a Round 20 loss to Fremantle, when again he was preferred to Stanley, but last week, after being named in the first ruck, he was a late withdrawal due to wet weather.

Oddly, coach Chris Scott elected to use fullback Mark Blicavs as his primary ruckman, and go in without a recognised first-choice ruckman.

For this week’s top of the table clash at the Gabba Scott has named Blicavs in his customary spot in defence, but has named Esava Ratugolea, mostly used as ruck support, as the first ruck.

The intriguing part of the equation is that Stanley, not even in the senior squad last week, is among the emergencies, and with coach Scott prone to last-minute changes, especially in his ruck division, it won’t surprise if Stanley ends up playing.

Whatever, it is not the news Smith was looking for at such a critical time in the season.

Keeffe, Chol and Zac Smith, knowing they are no guaranteed anything, are the three Queenslanders who will anxiously await selection right through the finals. But at least one other Queenslander looks likely to be spared this treatment.

Collingwood’s Josh Thomas, omitted in Round 17 after 50 games in a row and left out for a fortnight, has held his spot for a fourth week in a row since his recall as the Pies face Adelaide in Adelaide on Saturday and now looks comfortable back in the top side.

Similarly safe is West Coast ruckman Tom Hickey, who is on track for his first finals appearance.

With the Lions to go in unchanged against Geelong at the Gabba tomorrow the Queensland contingent will be spared the anxiety of Keeffe, Chol and Zac Smith.

Dayne Zorko, Harris Andrews, Eric Hipwood and Charlie Cameron are a selection lock, leaving Ben Keays, Jacob Allison and Archie Smith hoping to add to what has been a combined five games this year.

In selection news out of the Gold Coast, Brad Scheer is in line for a possible return for Sunday’s Marvel Stadium clash with Hawthorn after being named on an extended interchange bench.

Corey Wagner’s bright resurgence at Melbourne will continue tonight when the Demons play the Sydney Swans at the MCG, but fellow Queenslander Oscar Baker was omitted.

Charlie Dixon, back to something like his best form for Port Adelaide last week, will play against North Melbourne at Marvel Stadium tomorrow as the Power look to move one step closer to a finals berth.

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